Obama, Pakistan, and the Rule of Law May 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, extrajudicial killings, geneva conventions, hellfire missile, nuremberg, nuremberg trial, nuremburg charter, pakistan, pakistan air strikes, pakistan civilian casualties, pakistan missiles, pakistani civilians, peter dyer, president obama, roger hollander, rule of law, transparency, u.n. charter, War Crimes, war on terror
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“Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.”
In his first full day in office President Obama said: “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this administration.” The remarkable campaign and inspiring oratory of the first African-American to be elected to the planet’s most powerful public office sparked worldwide optimism and hope for new and creative approaches to serious national and international challenges. Two days later, on Jan. 23, the CIA launched two missile attacks on Pakistan. Fifteen people in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, were killed by Hellfire missiles launched from unmanned drones.
The attacks were the latest in a series that began several years earlier and intensified in 2008.
As such, despite the Obama campaign mantra, “Change We Can Believe In,” they represented the President’s commitment to a critical component of the Bush administration’s foreign and military policy: expansion of what George W. Bush dubbed the “global war on terror” – from one key theater of the GWOT in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan.
The attacks are ostensibly aimed at leaders of al-Qaeda who are blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and at Taliban militants who slip across the Afghan border to attack U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces.
Candidate Obama outlined his position in a hawkish address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on Aug. 1, 2007. He said:
“Al-Qaeda terrorists train, travel, and maintain global communications in this safe haven. The Taliban pursues a hit-and-run strategy, striking in Afghanistan, then skulking across the border to safety. This is the wild frontier of our globalized world. …
“But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. … If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistan's leader] won’t act, we will.”
Since the start of the Obama administration about 170 people have been killed inside Pakistan in at least 17 of these attacks. The Pakistan newspaper, “The News,” says the great majority have been civilians.
For many, the killings have thrown a shadow over early hopes for new thinking about Bush’s GWOT, which the Obama administration rebranded as the “Overseas Contingency Operation.”
The missile attacks indicate, as well, that President Obama’s perspective on the rule of law may have less in common with the uplifting eloquence of January than with the disdain consistently displayed during the previous eight years by his predecessor in the Oval Office.
Killing people in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles is against the law.
The attacks violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, the United Nations Charter, UN General Assembly Resolution #3314 and the Nuremberg Charter.
Even when the missiles hit their intended targets in Pakistan, the orders to fire are given from thousands of miles away by CIA officials watching on computer screens in North America. CIA teams sit, in effect, as collective judge, jury and executioner.
Protocol II, Article 6(2) of the Geneva Conventions says: “No sentence shall be passed and no penalty shall be executed on a person found guilty of an offence except pursuant to a conviction pronounced by a court offering the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality.”
The 170 or so people who have been killed by Hellfire missiles in Pakistan since Inauguration Day represent 170 extrajudicial killings – outlawed not only by the Geneva Conventions but by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Article 6(1): “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
Article 6(2): Sentence of death “can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.
Unless the Pakistani government has invited the United States to fire missiles into Pakistan, the attacks violate the United Nations Charter Article 2(4): “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Perhaps the most far-reaching aspect of the illegality of the drone attacks is that each is an act of aggression. The United Nations Definition of Aggression, General Assembly Resolution #3314, provides a list of acts defined as aggression, including Article 3(b): “Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State.” Article 5 makes it clear — aggression is never legal: “No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise may serve as a justification for aggression.”
This was the position of the Tribunal at the first Nuremberg Trial. At Nuremberg 22 of the most prominent Nazis were tried for war crimes, crimes against peace (aggression), crimes against humanity and conspiracy following World War II.
In the judgment the Tribunal left no doubt as to the enormity of the crime of aggression, labeling it “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Eight German leaders were convicted of aggression at Nuremberg. Five of these received death sentences.
Certainly the scale of American aggression in Pakistan is small compared to that of German aggression in World War II.
But how many civilian deaths, destroyed homes and summary executions does it take for the firing of remote-controlled missiles into Pakistan to qualify as a crime?
It’s not as if there is a lack of compelling and creative alternative visions being proposed by smart people with experience in and knowledge of the region.
For example, as recently reported in The Nation, Akbar Ahmed, former High Commissioner from Pakistan to the UK emphatically told the Congressional Progressive Caucus on May 5 that the best strategy in Pakistan is to work through tribal organizations and networks. He emphasized aid, education and the certain failure of an approach that is primarily military: “The one thing every Pakistani wants for his kids is education…. Within one to three years you will turn that entire region around. The greatest enemies of the Americans will become their allies.” In the book outlining Barack Obama’s vision, Change We Can Believe In — Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise, are these words (p. 104) “To seize this moment in our nation’s history, the old solutions will not do. An outdated mind-set which believes we can overcome these challenges by fighting the last war will not make America safe and secure.”
Unfortunately, in its first few months the Obama administration has been fighting the last President’s war. As far as Pakistan is concerned, neither the President’s foreign policy nor his perspective on the rule of law seem to be materially different from those of President Bush. However, President Obama apparently is now “re-evaluating” the missile strikes, in light of their widespread unpopularity in Pakistan and the threat to the survival of Pakistan’s government.
Perhaps now is a good time to look for an approach that is both legal and more effective in the long term than extra-judicial killings of Taliban militants, al-Qaeda extremists and Pakistani civilians.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for change we can believe in.
Tags: civilian casualties, david kilcullen, drone, drone missile, drone strikes, pakistan, pakistan al qaeda, pakistan casualties, pakistan drones, pakistan insurgents, pakistan missiles, pakistan taliban, pakistani government, pakistani people, roger hollander, unmanned missiles
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“using robots from the air looks both cowardly and weak”
Lahore – The top adviser to the US army chief in Afghanistan, David Kilcullen, has observed that the US drone strikes in Pakistan are creating more enemies than eliminating them, and hence, needed to be “called off.”
Responding to a congressman on what the US government should do in Pakistan, he said: “We need to call off the drones.”
The Daily Times quoted Kilcullen, as saying that he has no objection to killing “bad guys” in Pakistan.
However, he added that the strikes were creating more enemies than they eliminate.
Kilcullen said that the drone strikes, which were “highly unpopular”, gave rise to a feeling of anger that unites the population with the Taliban and could lead to “loss of Pakistani government control over its own population”.
He said that insurgents used the drone strikes to stir up anti-Western and anti-government sentiment.
Another problem, Kilcullen noted, was “using robots from the air looks both cowardly and weak”.
Obama’s Coalition of the Unwilling March 4, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan iwd, afghanistan occupation, afghanistan troop surge, Afghanistan War, afghnaistan peace, amy goodman, Barack Obama, civilian casualties, coalition of the unwilling, coaliton, Democracy Now, denis moynihan, foreign affairs, foreign policy, gloria steinem, Gordon Brown, iwd, joe stiglitz, kandahar, Middle East, NATO, nato troops, pakistan, pakistan missiles, Robert Gates, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, Taliban, terrorism, war
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Posted on Mar 3, 2009, http://www.truthdig.com
By Amy Goodman
President Barack Obama met recently with the prime ministers of Canada and Britain. This week’s meeting with Britain’s Gordon Brown, who was pitching a “global New Deal,” created a minor flap when the White House downsized a full news conference to an Oval Office question-and-answer session, viewed by some in Britain as a snub. The change was attributed to the weather, with the Rose Garden covered with snow.
It might have actually related not to snow cover, but to a snow job, covering up the growing divide between Afghanistan policies.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan includes a troop surge, already under way, and continued bombing in Pakistan using unmanned drones. Escalating civilian deaths are a certainty. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.
The occupation of Afghanistan is in its eighth year, and public support in many NATO countries is eroding. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, told me: “The move into Afghanistan is going to be very expensive. … Our European NATO partners are getting disillusioned with the war. I talked to a lot of the people in Europe, and they really feel this is a quagmire.”
Forty-one nations contribute to NATO’s 56,000-troop presence in Afghanistan. More than half of the troops are from the U.S. The United Kingdom has 8,300 troops, Canada just under 3,000. Maintaining troops is costly, but the human toll is greater. Canada, with 108 deaths, has suffered the highest per capita death rate for foreign armies in Afghanistan, since its forces are based in the south around Kandahar, where the Taliban is strong.
Last Sunday on CNN, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We’re not going to win this war just by staying … we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: “The United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory.” Yet it’s Canada that has set a deadline for troop withdrawal at the end of 2011. The U.S. is talking escalation.
Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, described the situation on the ground: “A lot of Afghans that I speak to in these southern areas where the fighting has been happening say that to bring more troops, that’s going to mean more civilian casualties. It’ll mean more of these night raids, which have been deeply unpopular amongst Afghans. … Whenever American soldiers go into a village and then leave, the Taliban comes and attacks the village.” Afghan Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai, a woman, told Gopal: “Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops—it will just bring more violence.”
Women in Afghanistan play a key role in winning the peace. A photographer wrote me: “There will be various celebrations across Afghanistan to honor International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8. In Kandahar there will be an event with hundreds of women gathering to pray for peace, which is especially poignant in a part of Afghanistan that is so volatile.” After returning from an international women’s gathering in Moscow, feminist writer Gloria Steinem noted that the discussion centered around getting the media to hire peace correspondents to balance the war correspondents. Voices of civil society would be amplified, giving emphasis to those who wage peace. In the U.S. media, there is an equating of fighting the war with fighting terrorism. Yet on the ground, civilian casualties lead to tremendous hostility. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, recently told me: “I’ve been saddened and shocked by virulent anti-American responses to those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. They’re seen as occupations. … I think it’s very important we learn from mistakes of sounding war drums.” She added, “There’s such a connection from the Middle East to Afghanistan to Pakistan which builds on strengths of working with neighbors.”
Barack Obama was swept through the primaries and into the presidency on the basis of his anti-war message. Prime ministers like Brown and Harper are bending to growing public demand for an end to war. Yet in the U.S., there is scant debate about sending more troops to Afghanistan, and about the spillover of the war into Pakistan.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate
Barack Obama: International Outlaw? January 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama.
Tags: Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Bush Doctrine, child casualties, civil rights movement, civilian casualties, commander-in-chief, International law, Iraq, martin luther king, nationa security strategy, national sovereignty, obama outlaw, Obama war criminal, pakistan, pakistan missiles, preventive war, Robert Gates, roger hollander, War Crimes
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Have we become so inured to the United States government willy-nilly violating international law that it hardly registers in the mainstream media when the new “change” president continues in the same tradition?
Of all the disappointments and mis-appointments (Gates and Clinton, Sumers and Rubin) Barack Obama has laid on his most progressive followers, none compares with his continuing to send missiles into Pakistan.
The most fundamental principle of international law is that no nation has the right to unilaterally attack another unless first attacked. In his notorious National Security Strategy document of 2002, George W. Bush introduced what has become know as the Bush Doctrine, which includes the notion that the United States reserves the right to engage in “preventive” war. This euphemism for international outlawry is used to justify the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, by declaring a phony “war on terrorism,” Bush in effect created a justification for the United States to attack anyone at any time.
In the context of international legal vacuum (no court with the authority or wherewithal to prosecute a criminal government) and a “might makes right” U.S. foreign policy, the United States military can pretty much get away with whatever its Commander-in-Chief decides to do.
Barack Obama was elected by the American people precisely to cease and desist from such unlawful practices as torture, spying on its own people, holding prisoners indefinitely without charges, and unprovoked attacks on sovereign nations.
Sadly, he authorized missile attacks on Pakistan on January 23 (BBC) and January 26 (Reuters) in which as many as 22 were killed, including at least three children (according to reports).
According to the Reuters report of January 27, Obama’s Secretary of Defence, the Bush holdover Robert Gates stated, “Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that.”
Along with Obama’s stated intention to escalate the War in Afghanistan, this bodes ill for the kind of change he led us to expect. One speculates that Obama may feel he needs to show the hawks and his military commanders that he has sufficient macho to fulfill the role of Commander in Chief. Much has been made of the historic antecedent to the election of the country’s first African-American president, the Civil Right Movement and in particular Dr. King. What we should remember is that Dr. King faced angry racist police in the South and their vicious dogs; he spent time in their jails; whereas Barack Obama rose to the presidency through making inspirational speeches and raising millions of campaign dollars. What he has yet to show us is that he is a man of courage.
It is tragic that he has not had the guts from the beginning to face down the hawks in his own party much less the militaristic Republicans. It is not too late. We know he can talk the talk. We need to see him walk the walk.
(For more on the Pakistan attack, read Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracynow!
“Plus ça change…” We Can Believe In December 14, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in A: Roger's Original Essays, About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, autoworkers, bailout, Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, foreign policy, George Bush, Iraq, labor, pakistan, pakistan missiles, regional security, Robert Gates, roger hollander, soviet union, state secrets, troops, workers rights
©Roger Hollander, 2008
More “Plus ça change…” We Can Believe In: Update on Obama’s continuation of Bush Agenda, April 2009:
Iraq: Obama lies to American people about total withdrawal in that he is leaving up to 50,000 combat troops but calling them by another name; paramilitaries to stay; the mega-Embassy in Baghdad to stay, military bases to stay. Some withdrawal.
Pakistan: Obama accelerates bombing of border areas with unmanned missiles, causing numerous civilian injuries and deaths and what local officials are calling a humanitarian crisis.Pakistan
Economic Crisis: Obama’s Treasury Secretary and economic advisors are the same financial and banking industry officials (Summers, Rubin, Geithner, etc.) who are responsible for the financial disaster in the first place. They are giving trillions of taxpayer dollars to their criminal buddies in the industry.
Labor: After gigantic welfare handouts to wall Street, Obama is set to let the auto industry go into bankruptcy, thereby wiping out workers’ pensions and virtually destroying the union.
Bush Administration Crimes: Neither Obama or his Attorney General, Eric Holder, have had the guts to go after Bush, Cheney and company for their war crimes and gross violations of the US Constitution (leaving the task to courageous Spanish Judge, Balthasar Garzon); Obama’s Justice Department has used the pernicious “state secrets” privilege (as did Bush) to protect Bush administration criminals with respect to torture and warrantless spying.
Afghanistan: Obama is timidly allowing Bush appointees, Defence Secretary Gates and General Petraeus, to call the shots on an escalation that is destined to fail, cost thousands of lives and be a major recruiting boon for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
(here’s the original “Plus ça change…” We Can Believe In article)
“In response to questions from audience members after his formal remarks, Mr. Gates said that although the Pentagon would be sending thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan over the next months, he was ultimately worried about the size of the American presence on Afghan soil. The United States plans to add some 20,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2009.
“’I am more mindful than most that with 120,000 troops the Soviets still lost, because they never had the support of the Afghan people,’Mr. Gates said. ‘I think that after we complete these troop increases that we’re talking about, we ought to think long and hard about how many more go in.’”
These, according to a December 13, 2008 New York Times article (“Troops to Stay Longer in Iraq as Support, U.S. Says”), are the words of the Bush/Obama Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, “speaking at a conference on regional security.”
Observe that Gates takes note of the Soviet failure in Afghanistan and attributes it to their lack of support of the Afghan people. Is there a better description of the situation as it exists for the United States in Afghanistan today (not to mention Iraq)?
Gates tells us that he thinks we need to think “long and hard” about how many more American young men and women are sent into Afghanistan to kill and be killed in Afghanistan AFTER we send in the first batch of cannon fodder. Apparently President-Elect Barack didn’t think that long and hard before appointing this veteran of the Iran Contra debacle and who, according to the same Times article, has served under seven U.S presidents, which makes him, of course, an expert on failed foreign policy.
It gets curiouser and curiouser, and it would be laughable but for the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.
Plus ça change … we can believe in.